Impact's Head of Creative Change, Dom Fitch, takes us behind the scenes at our latest learning event.
In July 2023 we hosted a learning event to explore the challenges leaders face in activating learning in their organisations. If you weren't there, this is what you missed...
- What? Impact’s networking event on Liberating Leadership
- Where? The Royal Institution, London
- Who? The Impact team, a bunch of amazing participants, and a panel of expert speakers from YouTube, Network Rail, Salesforce, and the Phoenix Group
Our in-person event began with a sample of our installation methodology. We invited participants to move through three installations designed to take them out of their comfort zones and immerse them in thought-provoking experiences.
Storyshaker provided a space to explore the various stories we tell ourselves about how leadership happens in organisations. We focussed on the need to create human-centric workplaces and catalyse collective leadership action. An important focus that participants reflected upon is that leaders need to embrace a space of unknowing where there is an opportunity to focus on their own agency for change. In doing so leaders see themselves as part of the wider, complex system they are trying to change. They are mindful of their impact, scanning for the questions that need to be asked rather than seeing themselves as the person who needs to provide all the answers.
During In My Shoes we invited participants to our shoe shop. In there they can listen do different podcasts which they find inside shoe boxes. These tell the story of what it's like to be in someone else’s shoes, catalysing listening, empathy, and reflection on how to create a culture of belonging. So often we rely on pulse surveys to gauge how engaged people are. This only tells part of a story and is often biased by the boxes people can tick. In My Shoes is a powerful way to truly listen and understand different perspectives.
An audio tour took participants through the inspiring corridors of the Royal Institution. Given the building’s history of learning and innovation, we reflected on what these walls would say if they could speak. This experience encouraged participants to think about how they use space and environments to help curate learning. It is easy to become preoccupied with learning objectives, how long something will take and how many participants can attend... At Impact we find it as important (if not more important) to focus on the environment that learning takes place in. We consider this very carefully and it is central to our experiential learning approach.
The panel debate with our host of industry experts rounded up the learning. This was a great opportunity to harness the collective wisdom of our panel and participants. Creating a safe space for people to speak openly generated a lively and diverse discussion from which we could all learn together.
What was it like to be there?
What did we learn?
We’ve highlighted four key outcomes:
We focus too much on leaders and not enough on leadership
We spend a lot of time talking about leaders, but less time reflecting on what it is that makes those people leaders. What is leadership itself? Leadership is a vital form of action that can emerge from anyone, rather than a nominal position or job title. Outdated narratives about hierarchy and authority don’t help us create the leadership we need for the future. We need to be adept at asking questions and interrogating what leadership actually is and what it looks like in our organisations.
Pay attention to language
In the business world, one thing we are really good at is using a barrage of abstract language and bewildering terminology that actually, no one really understands. For example, ‘authentic self’ is a phrase that gets used a lot (guilty!). It’s an elusive term that means different things to different people (authentic by what standards? For whom?) When it comes to communication, it’s important that we test our assumptions that people always understand us. A key part of this is not just about the way we speak, but also the way we listen. Perhaps the other person hasn’t understood us because of the language we’ve used, but perhaps it’s because we haven’t listened to their question properly.
As leaders, we should be more ambitious for each other
The best leaders aren’t those who race to overtake others on the career ladder, they’re the ones who can collaborate well, supporting others in their work and cheerleading them in their endeavours. By practicing and role modelling this approach, leaders can help shift whole organisations towards a human-centred culture of support and care, reaping huge rewards in terms of wellbeing, engagement and innovation.
The learning environment matters
If the awe-inspiring setting of the Royal Institution taught us one thing, it’s that environment matters (anyone who has spent all day on a training course in a stuffy conference room could also tell you this). The goosebumps of the theatre, the buzz of excitement in the echoey corridors, the hands-on quirkiness of the shoe shop – these weren’t just nice-to-haves, they were vital parts of the learning experience. This was a key design factor for us, and it should be a starting point for all leaders conducting organisational learning. Ask yourself, how can you use space to put people into different mindsets? How can you create an environment that inspires debate and collaboration? How can you arrange the space to encourage listening, to provoke sensation and memory making?